Turkey and stuffing in the past, Friday brought another fine morning of racing in West Yellowstone, Montana. A total of 174 skiers finished the 10/15km freestyle event, won by Leif Zimmermann (BSF/Madshus) and Morgan Arritola (SVSEF).
As is often the case there are details of the day that don’t make it into the main articles. Here is a selection of tidbits from athletes and coaches.
The mid-race snow squall didn’t appear to have much impact on the results, but it was certainly dramatic. Dark skies, high winds, and driving snow moved in for 10-15 minutes, dumping a solid covering of fresh wet ball bearings on the trail.
Winner Leif Zimmermann said that the snow “really slowed things down,” and described the feeling on the mix of grapple and powder as feeling “like cotton balls under your feet.”
Zimmermann is coming off a good summer of training. He focused on volume, but “intensity was lacking a little this fall —sort of by deign to race into it a little bit.”
He questioned that plan after a sprint day on Wednesday that he termed “awful.”
“I was a little disappointed with how I felt in the sprint ‘cause I thought ‘well man I guess I didn’t really do enough intensity’. But I think in time I will race into it,” Zimmermann said.
Men’s third place finisher Mike Sinnott described his approach to the course simply. “Just build in, try to keep the lid on until the end.”
Fourth place finisher Matt Gelso described the mini-storm as “gnarly,” arguably topping Sylvan Ellefson’s descriptor of “nuts.”
“The whole A-seed probably got hammered pretty good,” Gelso said. “I don’t think it was too bad. Everyone got a little bit.
“Sylvan [Ellefson] and I were talking at the start—it just started snowing a little bit., and we were both like ‘I’d really like it if it stopped snowing right now’, and then it got worse.”
Ellefson added “Right when I was starting I couldn’t see 5 feet in front of me, but then it “cooled down a little bit.”
Canadian Graeme Killick, the fifth finisher, was “pretty worried when it first came on—just when I was starting, but it didn’t seem to be too bad. The trail was packed in by the skiers ahead of me.”
CXC coach Jason Cork got worried about wax when the snow came in, as most of his athletes were out on course and the one starter left didn’t have enough time to change anything. “We didn’t see it coming,” he said “It went from being like, ‘Oh great, we have skis,’ to ‘Uh, oh…'”
Matt Leibsch was coming over the top of the hill when the squall blew in.
“I hit the high point of the course and turned the corner and it just looked black. It just hit me. It went from liquidy quick to having to work pretty hard there,” Leibsch said.
Leibsch, who has been spending less time travelling the circuit is still skiing plenty fast. He noted that in sixth place he was the first skier to cross the line who was not from altitude.
“I was pretty happy with how I skied,” he said. “I am still working into the season so I am hoping to get that 5th gear here.”
Leibsch is focusing on US Nationals and the Birkie, and hopes to head to Europe in March to race the Vasloppet and the Engadin.
Ollie Burruss, in his first season skiing for XC Oregon, popped a career-best 17th. The squall came in right before he started, but he “decided to go for it. The first lap went well, and I decided to hang on after that.” As for the course after the snow started falling, “There was definitely one section where you wanted to ski where everyone had gone, but [the squall] wasn’t enough to ake a huge difference.”
On the women’s side, Jessie Diggins, who placed 2nd to Arritola, was asked how the 5k loop compared to some of the courses she has skied in Europe, including at World Championships.
Of Telemark Hill, she said “It is very similar. It might not be quite as long, but it sure is just as steep, and it sure feels just as hard.”
Boulder Nordic Junior Race Team (BNJRT) head coach Adam St. Pierre entered fellow coach Lenka Palanova in the 10 k, much to her surprise. “I didn’t think I did well,” said the former University of Colorado standout. “I was thinking, it would be good if I could be top-20. If I’m top-10, maybe it’s like a miracle. So maybe the miracle happened.” She ended up finishing 8th.
There are no quotes, but it is certainly of note that Nordic Combined skier Brett Denney placed 7th and teammate Nick Hendrickson 20th. Since both men have no cross-country FIS profile to speak of, they started at the back of the field. FasterSkier’s early results didn’t have either listed since they hadn’t finished yet.
One thing is for sure, NoCo’ers can skate.